But what has been flagging so far has been leadership from the United States. Only in his second statement, a week into the crisis, did President Barack Obama underscore the importance of nonviolence, though he still declined to support the Iranian protestors. I understand the reluctance to provide Iranian leaders with the opportunity to smear the protestors as American stooges. But can the leader of the Free World find nothing more intimidating than bearing witness when it is clear that the regime doesn’t care who is watching?
Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.) and Fareed Zakaria on CNN, among others, have defended Mr. Obama’s extreme caution. Mr. Zakaria even compared the president’s actions to how George H.W. Bush responded timidly to the impending collapse of the Soviet Union and its hold on Eastern Europe in 1989. Mr. Zakaria explained, “Those regimes could easily crack down on the protestors and the Soviet Union could send in tanks.” True. But the Soviet Union used tanks to quash dissent when it could. Dictatorships use force when they can get away with it, not when a U.S. president makes a strong statement.
President Dwight Eisenhower might have learned that lesson in 1956 when he said nothing and the Soviets sent tanks into Budapest anyway. Likewise, in 1968 the Soviets cracked down in Czechoslovakia even though the West said little. Regardless of what Mr. Obama says, the Iranian leaders will use all the force at their disposal to stay in power.
There is no reason to withhold external pressure that can tip the balance inside Tehran. Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is not an ideal democrat. But should he and his supporters win power they will owe their authority to an abruptly empowered Iranian electorate. It is reasonable to expect that the people will hold a Mousavi government accountable for delivering the freedoms that they are now risking their lives to attain.
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